Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Out of My Bone – Book Review (Part 1)

I just finished reading Out of My Bone – The Letters of Joy Davidman, edited by Don W. King, Eerdmans, 2009. There is a particular challenge in reading this collection in that there are two distinct sections of letters, the first section covers pages 1 – 159; the second section pages 160 – 358. The letters in the first section are dated from August 18, 1936 to October 29, 1953; the letters in the second section cover November 14, 1953 through July 2, 1960 – Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis died on July 13, 1960.

The challenge comes in the second section, for the vast majority of the letters are to William (Bill) Gresham, her first husband, and their recurring theme is his lack of financial support for Joy and their two sons, David and Douglas. After Joy’s marriage to C.S. Lewis, on April 23, 1956, the focus on money shifts to the support of the two boys and is not as pronounced as prior to her marriage to Lewis; this is because Lewis has taken up the financial slack; in fact previous to their marriage Lewis was already helping Joy financially. Here are some snippets from her letters to Gresham:

“Check for $25 arrived. How long is Valley Forge going to last?” March 8, 1954.

“Why no, all is not well with me and the boys. How do you expect it to be, on five-dollar checks?” March 25, 1954.

“I supposed I’m a fool to go on being patient; any other woman would go to court.” January 14, 1955.

“Gee thanks; this month, for once you’re less than $100.00 behind!” March 25, 1955.

“You know, I get tired of labouring the obvious; you know as well as I do that $20 a week isn’t enough for me to bring up two boys on even in England.” November 28, 1955.

“Same old inflexible – ignore everything I say and go on paying as little as you please.” March 14, 1956.

The challenge in reading the second section is at least two-fold; firstly it is repetitiously dreary, with the monotony only breaking somewhat after her marriage to Lewis. Secondly, because her letters to Gresham dominate the second section, the reader has to remind himself that he is only reading a facet of Joy Davidman’s life through these letters – there was much more to this woman during these years than is reflected in the letters. Having said that, there can be little doubt in reading her letters to Gresham how finances influenced her activities and her health (she couldn't afford a balanced diet); they also restricted her ability to engage in activities that might have opened up opportunities for writing and speaking. In her letters we see a gifted thinker and author reduced to typing manuscripts for others in order to make ends meet.

One thing that comes through clearly in her letters is her love for her boys and her determination that they have educational opportunities and the best life possible under reduced financial circumstances. She writes to Gresham as a mother first and a soon-to-be former wife (and then former wife) second. She also shows genuine concern for Gresham and his new wife, her cousin Renee; Bill and Renee had an affair that was a catalyst in Joy and Bill’s divorce.

As difficult as the second section of her letters can be to work through, the reader will certainly sense that he has walked with Davidman through the peaks and valleys of life and will take special delight in Joy finding joy and peace in her marriage with Lewis…it was all too brief…but it was also a time of beauty for them both.

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